The Ogallala Aquifer, stretching from South Dakota to Texas, covers 174,000 square miles, including 36,080 square miles in the Texas High Plains. In western Kansas and the Texas High Plains, the aquifer is declining at an unacceptable rate. Aquifer depletion rates of 1 to 3 feet per year are common in that region, and recharges are very small. Water availability, cost and policy, together with technology development and adoption rates, are reshaping the rural landscape.
In 2003 a multi-state group of researchers tackled the problems associated with aquifer decline, and since then the Ogallala Aquifer Program has addressed the complex issues related to sustaining the Ogallala Aquifer and maintaining a stable rural economy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), with identified project funds provided by Congress, funds the project.
The collaborative Ogallala Aquifer Project involves the ARS's laboratories at Bushland and Lubbock, and four other partners: Kansas State University, Texas A&M Universitythrough Texas A&M AgriLife ResearchandTexas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Texas Tech University, and West Texas A&M University; about 80 engineers and scientists are on the research team.
"Researchers and educators are conducting research and developing water conservation technologies that will lead to continued sustainability of the $4 billion agricultural economy of the Texas Panhandle," said Dr. David Brauer, research agronomist with the USDA's ARS and manager of the program.
The 12-year-old program has contributed to the conservation of the aquifer through major advances in on-farm water conservation activities while also promoting agriculture.
Irrigation scheduling using evapotranspiration demand has reduced water application by 15 percent over the past 10 years, saving farmers approximately $200 million in production costs. Advances in the design and management of subsurface drip irrigation have led to the doubling of the acres using this water conserving technology since 2003. New irrigation automation systems, which could benefit six million acres by reducing labor costs by $7 per acre while maintaining crop yields, have been developed and tested. Other accomplishments include the development of drought-and heat-resistant crop varieties for corn, cotton, sorghum, wheat and peanuts and Extension programs that have educated thousands of farmers in water conservation practices.
Through the years, millions have been exposed to the importance of the Ogallala Aquifer to the nation’s and world’s food and fiber supply via public media stories.